Saturday 20 January 2007

Schleiermacher: making do with science

“Just think of the natural sciences as they increasingly develop into a comprehensive knowledge of the world. A short time ago no one could have conceived of this development. What then do you suppose the future holds, not only for our theology, but for our evangelical Christianity? … There are those who can hack away at science with a sword, fence themselves in with weapons at hand to withstand the assaults of sound research and behind this fence establish as binding a church doctrine that appears to everyone outside as an unreal ghost to which they must pay homage if they want to receive a proper burial. Those persons might not allow themselves to be disturbed by the developments in the realm of science. But we cannot do that and do not want that. Therefore, we must make do with history as it develops.”

—Friedrich Schleiermacher, On the Glaubenslehre: Two Letters to Dr Lücke [1829] (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1981), p. 60.


Arvid said...

Indeed so!

michael jensen said...

Do quotes actually count as blog entries?


Shane said...

should theologians pay attention to the things that scientists prove? but of course.

Should theologians believe whatever bullshit happens to be making the rounds just because it is said by a scientist? Of course not.

I think the crucial distinction is to know when a scientist is speaking qua scientist and when she is speaking qua crackpot amateur a/theologian.

I like science too, but honestly, let's not just roll over any time somebody in a lab coat tells us that there is no such thing as a soul (for instance).


Shane said...

I guess i should clarify my objection to schleiermacher is precisely that I don't believe that empirical natural science presents a 'comprehensive' view of the world because this is already to presume that everything worth knowing is calculable, measureable, observable--the very claim which we Christians ought to protest. This need not imply a negative attitude towards the knowledge gained by empirical science, merely a reconfiguration of that knowledge into a more sensible position for it.

After all, science might tell you what chemicals in your brain make you want the cute girl in the red skirt, but it can't tell you whether you should go talk to her or what to say. And really, we should deny the title 'comprehensive knowledge' to any putative theory of everything which cannot so much as get you a date.


David Williamson said...

What would Aquinas make of intelligent design?

Anonymous said...

Re. Shane's point:

And Jesus said, "Blessed is he or she who has an over-active posterior superior temporal sulcus" - which scientists have discovered is the area of the brain that is the "origin [sic] of altruism."

Shane said...

What would Aquinas say about ID? That's a really interesting question. I'm sure I don't have anything like an exhaustive answer to it, but I think there are a couple things to bear in mind.

1. St. Thomas lived in such a radically different time than we do that it is hard to figure out what he would have said. Thomas lived in an age which was much more religiously, ethnically and culturally homogeneous than our own. Thomas, for example, seems to move without batting an eyelash from proving the existence of a first mover to "and this is what everyone calls God". It must be said that even if his proofs for the existence of a necessary uncaused cause, etc. are valid, it would be quite hard for us, in an age of religious pluralism to say "and this is what everybody means when they are talking about 'God'".

2. Thomas Aquinas works with a quite different notion of what a 'science' is and what relation there is between the sciences. Thomas believes in a hierarchy of the sciences. The highest sciences are the most certain ones and they prove principles presupposed in the lower sciences. Theology is the queen of the sciences and philosophy is her handmaiden. I think Thomas would find something quite puzzling about the idea of trying to use a demonstration from a lower science (physics, molecular chemistry, statistics, etc.) to try to buttress a theological claim. In one sense this has already got things backwards.

3. Despite these two points, I think Thomas would agree with the proponents of ID in seeing a teleological purpose in creation. Thomas is, of course, not burdened with philosophical objections to teleology, but I think he might have some interesting responses to the anti-teleological arguments that are also raised against ID.

David Williamson said...

Thanks, Shane! Very stimulating!

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